When it comes to bad luck there’s no better example than that of The Pretty Things. Ask your man on the Clapham omnibus to name the top UK bands of the sixties and you’ll get The Beatles, The stones, The Who, the Kinks, The Small Faces and Cream perhaps. Pressed, you might find he’s familiar with Manfred Mann or the Dave Clark Five or Herman’s Hermits. It is unlikely that The Pretty Things will come to mind given that they really only had two medium sized chart hits, Rosalyn and Don’t Bring Me Down in 1964 before disappearing from the general public’s view.
Dyed in the wool music fans however will argue the case for The Pretty Things to be sitting in the top echelon of sixties pop and rock, maybe outside the top three but certainly in the top six (or seven or eight, arguments for and against can be directed to the editor). After all they started off when original Stone’s bassist, Dick Taylor met singer Phil May at the London Central School of Art (and all the good sixties bands formed at art colleges, didn’t they?), grew their hair longer than The Stones and proceeded to deliver what might be the best sixties UK take on R’n’B. More unhinged than Jagger and crew, rawer than The Yardbirds, a precursor to the wilder garage delights of Nuggets era US bands and equalled only by the original Them in our opinion. Their main claim to rock and roll fame however resides in their later sixties psychedelic era. In common with their peers, grungy blues riffs gave way to elaborate melodies, Eastern influences, instrumental experimentation and in 1968 they delivered S.F. Sorrow, now commonly accepted as the first “rock opera,” beating The Who’s Tommy by several months. More importantly, S.F. Sorrow and the following album Parachute are prime examples of UK psychedelia with the whimsy kept in check and the songwriting still strong after all these years. Both albums sunk without a trace however but The Pretty Things were thrown a lifeline when Led Zeppelin released the 1974 album Silk Torpedoes on their Swansong label. There was much press brouhaha but it was another Swansong signing, Bad Company who shifted units leaving our lads to limp along, bedevilled by line up changes and lengthy legal battles for the rights to their original material.
It’s a hearty welcome then to this fairly comprehensive compilation of all things pretty. Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky gathers all 11 of the studio albums on CD (with bonus tracks on all) along with two discs of rarities, two DVD’s of band performances and documentary, a 10″ acetate with four songs, a 100 page book and a host of paraphernalia. There’s the sneering blues pop of Rosalyn (covered by David Bowie on his Pin Ups album), a brilliant rough and ready 1964 BBC recording of a lascivious Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut, the sublime psychedelia of Defecting Grey and to prove that they could still cut it long after their star faded a song such as Dream/Joey from 1974’s Silk Torpedo shows that they were still a force to be reckoned with.
Overall this is a must buy for anyone who puts The Pretty Things in their top ten (6,7,8,perhaps) sixties bands but shifting at around £125 for the set it’s good value for anyone interested in the era, mind you it’s limited to 2000 copies so if you want it get in quick.